Spinal Cord Compression

Spinal cord compression occurs due to any condition that may put pressure on the spinal cord. This could take place due to bone fragments from a fracture of the vertebrae pressing on the spinal cord, or due to a ruptured disc between the vertebrae putting pressure on the spinal cord. Spinal cord compression may also be caused by blood clots due to bleeding disorders, pus (abscesses), swelling due to a spinal cord injury, and cancerous or non-cancerous tumours. The compression may take place anywhere along the spinal cord, from the neck to the lower spine. 

The risk for a spinal cord compression is higher for people who generally use poor lifting techniques, have to lift heavy weights frequently by virtue of their jobs, or those suffering from osteoarthritis. ​

The signs and symptoms of spinal cord compression will vary depending on the location where the compression occurs and the severity of compression on the spinal cord. Some of the common symptoms associated with this disorder include:

  • Pain in the back or neck

  • Problems with bowel and bladder functioning

  • Numbness in the toes or fingers, or over the buttocks

  • Problems balancing yourself

  • In cases of tumours or abscesses causing the compression, the pain may start off as being mild, gradually increasing in intensity over time

  • Muscle weakness

  • Tingling

  • Changes in sensation

  • Loss of reflexes 

  • Difficulty with hand coordination

  • "Foot drop," weakness in a foot that causes a limp

  • Burning pain that spreads to the arms, buttocks, or down into the legs (sciatica)

If you experience any of the symptoms described above, seek help from your doctor at the Mind and Brain Service Line​ at The Aga Khan University Hospital.

Your time with your doctor may be limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here​ are some tips to help get you started.

Your doctor will begin a diagnosis by asking you questions about your symptoms, specifically regarding signs of weakness, tingling and loss of sensation. A physical examination will also be conducted, with the neurologist examining your back for signs of tumours and tender areas using palpation (feeling for any tender spot with hands and fingers). A test of your reflexes will also be done by the doctor.

Besides this, other tests to confirm the diagnosis include:

  • X-rays to show any problems with the vertebrae or misalignment of the spine that could be causing pressure on the spine

  • Imaging tests of your spine, such as a Computerized Tomography (CT) scan or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan to have a more detailed look at the spinal cord and the structures surrounding it

  • Electromyography (EMG) which is an electrical test of muscle activity

  • Bone scans, to examine any anomalies in the bone structure 

A number of specialists may have to get involved for the treatment of your spinal cord compression, depending on the cause, location and severity of the compression.

Conservative treatment methods will be tried to see if symptoms improve without any surgical procedure. In case conservative treatment methods do not produce any positive changes in your symptoms, surgical treatments may be necessary.

Conservative treatment methods include:

  • Anti-inflammatory and painkiller medications to relieve pain and swelling

  • Steroid injections to reduce swelling

  • Physical therapy exercises to strengthen your back, abdominal, and leg muscles

  • Braces to support your back or a cervical collar

  • Simple home remedies like an ice bag, heating pad, massage, or a long hot shower 

In case the above methods do not help improve your symptoms, your neurologist may recommend surgery. Surgery will aim to reduce the compression on the spinal cord, for instance, by removing bone spurs from a broken vertebrae that could be putting pressure on your spinal cord, or by widening the space between the vertebrae to help release pressure from the spinal cord. In case of a tumour causing a compression, radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be prescribed to shrink the tumour. 

You can help prevent injuries that cause spinal cord compression by maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise. Lift objects properly may also decrease the likelihood of an injury, which can lead to a spinal cord compression.

Please click here​ for some guidelines on “what to do before your surgery”.

​Please click here​ for some guidelines on “what to do on the day of your surgery”.

​Any surgical procedure related to the spinal cord and the use of medications, such as steroid injections, has their own risks. For instance, excess use of steroids is not recommended. A thorough diagnosis and evaluation of your symptoms is also necessary before any surgical procedure. Talk with your doctor about any treatment before you try it to find out how useful it might be.

In order to ensure that your surgery is successful, you must also follow all post-operative instructions given by your specialists to help ensure a speedy recovery.

​Please click here​ for some guidelines on “what to do after your surgery”

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments’ costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

​Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.